As she prepares to head to college in the fall, Pavlina Osta has already established a career for herself that millions could and can only dream of. Having first come to peoples’ attention playing the steel drums on Daytona Beach, she then moved into radio and has since interviewed some of the biggest names in the world – all before the age of 18.
Over Skype, as she introduces me to her companion, Penelope the pug, she openly and happily chats about career ambitions, favourite interviewees, social media and her big plans for the future.
PW: How would you describe yourself?
Pavlina Osta: I’m very bubbly, or so I’m told. Actually, I was just at work and one of the guys in the sales department area called me Miss Happy. I like to read a lot - I love Mitch Albom and am about to start The Timekeeper. He’s an amazing author, For One More Day is my favourite…it made me cry. I’m also reading Gloria Steinem – she’s like, my life! Since I started working, my reading schedule has gone down dramatically, so now I mainly read on the subway or when I’m in a cab – I seize every opportunity I can to read. I also like to watch Oprah and Barbara Walters videos.
PW: You first caught people’s attention aged 11 after you regularly played the steel drums on Daytona Beach. What do you remember of that time?
PO: In elementary school, they had a program for the fifth graders and it was basically a steel drum program that you could join, which I did and I loved it. I would go to all the practices, play in all the performances we did and then after that year, I wanted to keep playing. I was eleven at the time, so I would go out to Daytona Beaches and with the drums I had, just play how and what I wanted to play. It was very beach like, very Caribbean sounding, and people enjoyed it. I never memorized the songs back then like I have now, and I was focussed on trying to figure out where all the notes were – on two big drums they were all scattered out.
My older sister would always hold my sheet music, I remember that well, and I also remember this homeless guy who was right next to where I was playing. My parents were there with me, obviously, being eleven I couldn’t be out there on my own, and he came up to me and said ‘you just have to do what you love’ and then he told me to go to the Ocean Deck. The Ocean Deck is like a huge socially popular area – lots of stores and restaurants and that kind of thing. He said I should go down there and that I’d be paid and meet people. I contacted The Ocean Deck, The Ocean Shops I actually think it was called, and it was while I was playing there that I started to get noticed by all these radio people. They’d be walking by then they’d hear me and want to interview me and then I started getting a whole bunch of different gigs. I started playing at water-parks and birthday parties, and it was all because a homeless guy told me where I should go and play.
PW: Could you have imagined it would lead to the career you have now?
PO: *laughs* No, never. I wasn’t particularly into radio at the time – I was just more focussed on playing my drums when I was eleven or so. But, having a Guinness World Record in radio and for playing my steel drums, I’m just like…no. I could never have imagined that little old me on Daytona Beach, just doing something she loved, could or would ever lead to this – to where I am now, here in New York where I live now. I always thought I was going to be a professional dancer of some sort. I had all these ideas of being on Broadway or of being a Rockette, but I don’t and didn’t meet the height requirements (fun fact: we’re both 5’3). I thought about being a choreographer or something and so switching it around and going into radio was something I definitely didn’t see in my future at that time, but hey, that’s where I went and I don’t regret a thing.
PW: How does it feel to know your show is syndicated on 17 national networks and is likely to expand?
PO: It’s pretty exciting, but I can’t help but think, wow, people actually want to hear me. I’m not that much of a well-known name and there are other radio shows and people out there with much bigger careers than mine, so it still blows my mind that people all over the country tune into listen to me. My listeners do help me get more of my celebrity interviews, which is great and especially living in New York, it’s a lot harder to get them because I’m competing with so many other people, but I’ve held my own and it’s worked out well so far. It’s been crazy; it’s been a lot of networking, self-syndication…it’s hard work, but it’s worth it.
PW: You’ve interviewed some incredibly famous named including Steven Forbes, Ed Sheeran and Gloria Steinem. Do you ever find yourself feeling star-struck?
PO: No, not really. My very first interview was Kevin Jonas and especially when I was eleven, the Jonas Brothers were the only thing people my age cared about. I’d had my show for a week and I interviewed him then, and even then, I didn’t even care. I knew how big they were, but that didn’t really phase me. All of my friends had pictures of them on their folders and binders and whatnot, but I just never fangirled over anyone – I never had the posters on my wall growing up, that kind of thing.
I think the only time I was like ‘woah, this is crazy’ was when I interviewed Miranda Cosgrove, from iCarly. I interviewed her in Tampa, Florida, and it was so surreal. We went through the backstage area, and into this area where on one side there were all these computers and there was someone running her website, another person was on her Facebook and someone else was on her Twitter. On the other side were the dressing rooms and she had her name in a star on her door and I was like ‘I want that!’ It was so cool. I later got to interview Drake Bell from Drake and Josh, and that show was like, my thing, growing up, and I felt like I was going to die.
PW: Who has been your favourite interviewee and why?
PO: Personally, I like the legendary musicians because they’re so influential on people through their music. Greg Allman, Pete Seeger are two of the ones that come to mind. My interview with Seeger was awful, but great. I was still really bad at interviews and he sang “Give Peace A Chance” to me, and that song was monumental in the 1970’s I think it was, and I always remember how he and John Lennon used to sing that song over and over, so for Seeger to be singing it to me, was unreal. If I was to fangirl over someone, it would be The Beatles – I’m absolutely crazy about them (fun fact: my dad was a touring musician in the 1970’s and shared a bill with them – as a backing musician - in Germany, something Pavlina was ridiculously excited about).
PW: Have you had any awkward interviews?
PO: Not really. Everyone that has agreed to do an interview with me has always been very nice, and I’ve enjoyed talking with them so no, I don’t think so. I don’t think I actually got good at doing interviews until I was about sixteen, but obviously, when I first started out, I was a kid and I didn’t really know much about the world I was getting into. I don’t think I had any awkward or terrible interviews because I don’t think the people I talked to would have done them with me if that was the case. But I have had interviews where, when I look back at them now, I think ‘God, I was awful.’
PW: Which one person would you like to interview that you haven’t yet?
PO: Oprah and Barbara Walters – I watch them religiously. And obviously, like the Taylor Swifts, the One Directions, they’re fun to do. If all four of The Beatles were alive, I’d love to interview them – but it’d have to be with all four. I’m soul-mates with all of them.
PW: You’re a 4 time Gracie Award winner, and have been labelled ‘the next Barbara Walters’. How do you feel about plaudits like that, and do they matter to you?
PO: It’s nice to get recognised, but to be completely honest, I really don’t care that much. I won two this year, but I don’t do what I do to win awards or anything like that. I do it so I can meet different people and further my career, but yeah, plaudits like Gracie Awards do help me come across as more professional I guess, but I’d much rather just get my interviews out there and explore the people I talk to in a way that maybe hasn’t been done before and show my listeners a different side to people.
PW: How did moving to New York aged 17 impact your career, and were you at all nervous about making such a move?
PO: I had actually just turned 18, as I had to be that age firstly to live on my own and secondly, to work at the radio station I do now. I was hired a few weeks before I turned eighteen but fortunately they were lenient, so they kept the position open for me until I reached the legal age. It wasn’t particularly nerve-wracking. I’ve always been a rather independent person so I was okay with it, but of course it was scary. I was going to be moving to a big city where I didn’t know anyone, and I was leaving all of my friends. That was daunting, but I knew, for my career, it was the right and the best thing to do.
PW: Do you regret not getting to finish high-school in class like other students or was that something you were willing to sacrifice to further your career?
PO: When I step back and see how far I’ve come, I don’t regret it, no. It was definitely worth it. My life, as it is now, is freaking awesome. I hang out and work with some great people, I’m working and connecting with new people on a daily basis – it’s great. Sure, I missed my friends, and I’d go on Instagram and see everyone posting pictures from prom and everything – that was a little hard at times and I’d wish I was there for that, but then I think about my career and all the opportunities I’ve had and I know I did the right thing. Social media is killing me right now, seeing all the pictures from graduations and everything, but it’s okay. I’ve just graduated high school, and I get freaked out by the fact I’ve done that and also that I'm starting college in the fall – even though my sister, who is eleven years older than me, has just graduated law school.
PW: How has social media impacted your career in terms of growing your audience? You currently have 23,000 likes on Facebook, 25,000 followers on Twitter and your YouTube page has had 1.7 million views.
PO: It definitely helps in a lot of different aspects. People find my Instagram, for example, and find out about my radio show, which they then check out, and then all my radio listeners follow me on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Those social media platforms have been huge in growing my audience and it’s so important. If you don’t have social media, then I think you’re considered obsolete and people are often like ‘if you don’t have a Facebook, how am I supposed to know what you’re doing?!’ There is no denying how much social media has helped my career – its impact has been phenomenal. I’m so grateful for all the followers I have, but I also think there’s a pressure that comes with having so many people following you – there’s a sense of expectation that comes with that I think. I might not feel like posting a selfie or whatever but there’s almost an expectation that you should post at least one thing a day…
PW: How does it feel to be a 2 time Guinness World Record holder, and could you tell me a little about the two records you hold?
PO: For my radio one, I did 347 interviews in 24 hours. It was so much fun, but I don’t know if I’d ever want to do it again. It was a lot of work and it was stressful so there was a lot of adrenalin going. I had like two slices of pizza the whole entire time. The steel drum one – for the longest marathon playing the steel drum - was hard going – my whole body was in pain. I played for 26 hours. By hour eighteen, I was like ‘who cares anymore?!’ and my whole team that I had with me were like ‘can we wrap this up now?’ It’s very cool to say to people I have not one, but two, Guinness World Records. It’s awesome (fun fact: my dad was a GWR holder in the 1980’s for the longest consecutive game of snooker).
PW: Tell me about Text Ya Later – where did the idea for that come from?
PO: There weren’t any non-profits focussed on the goal to stop people from using their cell-phones, or answering a text, while driving, and it was a big thing that was going on at the time it was set up. I haven’t done as much with it lately as I’d like to, mostly because I’ve been so busy with my work, but certainly when it started out, I did a lot of stuff promoting the dangers of cell-phone use when behind the wheel and I have a couple of friends who almost died as a result of getting in major accidents due to being on their cell-phones. Now people are more aware of it, I’ve been able to step back a bit. I’m now working on setting up a second non-profit which I want to be a lot more involved in, but this one would be called Penelope’s Friends, or something like that. Penelope is a service animal, I had her registered as an emotional support dog, mainly because I want to be able to take her everywhere. She loves people, loves kids, loves other animals and I’d love it if we could go into like children’s hospitals, elderly homes, or kindergarten classes and be able to say hi to the kids, and make them smile. She’s such a great dog. I can’t even tell you how many people have told me that Penelope’s made their day. I’m starting to work on that now, so hopefully I can have it set up properly in the near future.
PW: You take Penelope to a lot of events, but what’s the best one you’d say you’ve taken her to?
PO: I take her everywhere. I was media for the NAN, the National Action Network, and Hillary Clinton was speaking at the event. Penelope was so good the whole day, and we were there for hours. Hillary came on stage late in the day and I was in the press pool, literally about three, four feet from where she was, and when she walked out, I held Penelope in one arm, turned around and took a selfie with her in the background. I got a bunch of media coverage from that, it was great. I also take her to all of my interviews and all my interviewees love her – she’s a great way to break the ice. Once they see her, we’re all like instantly friends rather than it taking the usual couple of minutes to feel comfortable with one another, you know what I mean?
PW: How do you unwind while maintaining such a busy schedule?
PO: I don’t have a lot of down-time, but when I do I like to go to soul-cycle. When I get the chance, I try to do yoga, but I don’t really like the studio near me – it’s hot yoga, and the minute you walk in, you start sweating. I need to work up a sweat, not have one the second I walk in somewhere. If I’m really frustrated or having a crappy day, I’ll either go to soul-cycle or I’ll run – I like running…sometimes.
PW: What does the rest of the year have in store for you?
PO: I’m so pumped to start college in the fall. I’m taking two summer classes, as I only want four, rather than five classes just because I work so much. I’m going to continue working and doing my radio show. This summer I might be going to Lebanon – my dad is Lebanese, so I’m trying to convince him to let me go with him. My mom is black-Irish, so that’s where I get my dark features from. I’m so pale, and I just burn so easily, but I’ve never been to Lebanon before and I really want to discover more about my dad’s side of the family, his culture and all that sort of stuff. I want to do some overseas reporting while I’m there, I think that would be freaking awesome. I want to interview my family that’s there, so hopefully I’ll get to do that. I’m going to be super busy, especially when I start college, but I’m excited.
PW: Finally, what advice would you give to other young people looking to make that big break in the media industry?
PO: It’s a very tough business, but it’s also a very small world. In radio, there are certain people you need to know and connect with, so if you can do that, it’s a great place to start. Network as much as possible; start a blog and make sure you make the most of social media, sell yourself as much as you can to as many people as possible. Get yourself a business card and hand them out to individuals you meet or organisations you maybe do a placement at – it will all help. Love what you do. The people who truly get ahead are those who are 100% dedicated and passionate about their chosen career and they work hard. I’ve been doing this since I was eleven, and when I work on something, I put everything I have into it, and I like to think that shows in the content I put out, need it be via my radio show or through my connections and interactions with people. Be tenacious and try not to get distracted by things – I think that’s a big problem for a lot of the younger people today. There’s so much going on around them that it’s easy to be distracted, but if you really want to get ahead, you need focus. Of course, it’s important to have time with your friends and family, but dedicate the majority of your time and energy to your career – the pay-off can be huge.